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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Pregnant prisoner freed from PJ lockup

Pregnant prisoner freed from PJ lockup

A fter five months in Phnom Penh's Police Judiciary (PJ) prison for a crime she says she did not commit, pregnant Kao Ratha (pictured above) has won her freedom.

The 29-year-old Kompong Cham woman's life was thrown upside down in August when she was arrested for an alleged conspiracy to steal a motorcycle.

A month earlier she had lent a man in her town of Memot, near the Vietnamese border, 5 chi of gold (about $230). He later told her she must travel on a moto-taxi to Phnom Penh with him, where he would repay the money.

They arrived in Kompong Cham, where the man told Ratha to have lunch with the moto-driver. She said the man then took the motorcycle and did not return.

The moto-driver accused her of being an accomplice to the theft and took her to the police, who arrested her on his word. She was adamant she was innocent.

A month pregnant and with two young children at home, she was taken to Phnom Penh - her first time in the capital - and put in PJ prison.

The Post reported on her case in early December when Australian judge Michael Kirby, the UN Secretary General's Special Representative for Human Rights in Cambodia visited the prison.

The Cambodian Defenders Project, a foreign-funded group which trains Cambodian defenders to represent the accused in criminal cases, had meanwhile earlier taken up her case.

In one of the first cases handled by the project, defender Yim Simene successfully sought approval to represent Ratha. A bail motion for her release was sought on Dec 15 on the grounds of a medical certificate stating she was six months pregnant and suffering a urinary infection.

The motion was turned down but the Phnom Penh Municipal Court agreed to bring her trial forward.

At her trial on Dec 26, she was found guilty but - though facing a prison term of 1-5 years - was sentenced to just five months' imprisonment, the same amount of time she had already served.

Defenders project staff were delighted - they say acquittals are virtually non-existent in Cambodia - at winning her freedom.

"We just wanted her released. We didn't want to say much about her being not guilty," Yim Simene said yesterday.

"We were concerned she would have been kept in (prison) for months more before getting to trial."

Ratha, the day after her release, said she was "very happy". She had been given accommodation at a missionaries' home and was being visited by a doctor from the Licadho human rights group.

She said she would stay in Phnom Penh, where there was better medical care, to have her baby before returning home.

She had been treated "normally" in prison, with one meal a day, which was "sometimes not enough", but became sick and exhausted.

While in prison she had tried to send messages to her elderly mother in Memot, who was looking after her children, aged 3 and 7, but did not know whether they had got through.

Ratha is lucky, at least compared to another pregnant prison inmate being represented by the Cambodian Defenders Project.

Kim Phalli, who had been held in the capital's T-3 prison for several months without trial, was seven months pregnant when she began hemorrhaging.

A bail motion, based on her medical condition, was granted several days later and she was taken to hospital. She miscarried a day later.



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